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Why Su-prose? "Su" in Sanskrit is a prefix for "good". This is a place where we will discuss and analyze prose (with a South Asian Connection) - that which is good, awesome, excellent, and maybe rant about prose that could be better.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

A Conversation With Mira Kamdar

Mira Kamdar is Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute, Associate Fellow of the Asia Society and author of “Planet India – How the fastest growing Democracy is Transforming America and the World.” She surmises that the new and powerful India is technologically savvy, culturally hip, politically powerful and poised to challenge the dominance of the western world. But despite this rapid rate of expansion and growth, India is still beleaguered by poverty and an overwhelming scarcity of resources. The two sides of India will have immense repercussions on the world stage – both good and bad. Kamdar articulates that at this point it is unclear which side will dominate. As the world invests in the future of India, our fate becomes inexorably tied to the fate of India. “So goes India, as goes the world,” Kamdar says succinctly.

1. What was the impetus behind this book? Where did the idea for this book come from? What made you want to write this? (Please describe how this book came into being; whether your agent/ editor approached you about it or was it the other way around. How things worked from conception to published book)

I felt that what was happening in India and with India's greater intersection with the world at this particular global moment was very important and complex, and that the general public had only the vaguest sense of it. In the United States, for example, India was getting a lot of attention as a potential lucrative market and as a potential threat to American jobs via outsourcing. The cultural, social, political and environmental dimensions were lacking. I felt that the problems India is facing are global problems and that it was very important for people around the world to pay attention to what was going on in India. I wrote a proposal and my agent sent it out to publishers. I got a couple of offers and went with Scribner.

2. You travelled extensively in India to write this book. What were the highlights of your travels?

My train trip to Nagpur and my road trip through Vidarbha. The interview with Sanjay Bhansal and the glimpse he gave me into the whole world and history of tea. Talking with college students.

3. What do you like best about the book? What do you think you might have liked to have emphasised better? What would you change now if you could?

I like best the stories and perspectives shared by the individuals I interviewed, especially those who are making a difference and are really thinking "outside the box". I wish I'd emphasized the problem of corruption more. I wish I'd had time to go to Chennai. I wish
there weren't the few errors that I've found (which will be corrected for future printings and editions).

4. What were some challenges you faced while writing this book?

The biggest challenge was how to get a handle on a huge, complex story that was changing even as I tried to grasp it.

5. Who are some of your favorite writers both fiction and non-fiction, Indian and non-Indian?

Limiting myself to more or less contemporary authors that I've read recently: Amartya Sen, Irene Nemerovsky, Kiran Desai, Magda Szabo, Mavis Gallant.

6. Have you read "In Spite of the Gods" by Ed Luce? Your thoughts...

I haven't sat down and read it. I did leaf through it after my book was done. It strikes me as being very well written and perceptive but also one more in a long line of British male authors who've sojourned for a few years in India and then written an account for the readers back home.

7. Shashi Tharoor had a rather impressive review of your book in the Times Of India. Your reaction to that review...

I was glad Shashi reviewed the book, and it was by and large very positive. I do think he made a bit much of my not being Indian. If I have an Indian name, it is because I have an Indian father. I've been going to India since 1960. I went to school there for awhile. I have a lot of family there. I speak Hindi. So, I'm not simply an American author masquerading as an Indian under an Indian name. But other than that, I was pleased.

8. When you do readings in the US what kinds of questions/reactions do you get from your readers...

I get a lot of questions about poverty and caste. I also get a lot of questions about outsourcing.

9. How about in India? How do the readers react to Planet India?

The most frequent question I get in India is how, given my unblinking account of all the challenges facing the country, I remain so optimistic and finally bullish on India.

10. Do you have any other books/book ideas in the works? Can you share
them with us?

My 11-year-old daughter has been clamoring for some time for a book she would enjoy reading. She finds what I write incredibly boring! So, I've promised her the next book I write will be with her in mind. I've just started thinking about it and don't want to say much at this point.

11. What do you do in your free-time? Or what would you like to do, if
you had the free-time?

I wish I had more time to play the violin, which I did professionally in France many years ago. I'd like to become really proficient in swing jazz violin -- Stephane Grappelli kind of music. And I'd like to move to Paris where I've spent a lot of time going back to 1976. I also wish I had a place in the country where I could do a little gardening and also the time to go there and do it.

By Visi Tilak

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